First I would like to discuss this subject with regard to the realities of existence, as we see and feel it, and then I shall refer to relevant texts. In reality, man has freedom. He is able to assess material matters, and differentiate between good and bad through the power of his intellect. Through his will power, man is able to either do good, or make mistakes. Every thinking person knows that prayer is good and drinking alcohol is bad; when someone sets out from home he can either go to a Mosque and pray, or go to a pub and get drunk. By the same token, nobody can dispute the fact that I am able to lift my arm unless I have badly injured it or unless it is paralyzed. I may raise it either to give money to a poor man, or to hit an innocent person. But are these two actions one and the same? Surely the action of giving money to a poor man, deserves a reward, whereas the assault on an innocent person merits punishment. A student can choose whether to go out of the town the evening before his examination, or to spend the evening quietly at home, revising. In a case like this, we cannot sympathize with the student who wasted his time if he fails in his exam and says his failure is unfair. And if the other student passes his exam, we cannot regard this fact as a mere fluke.
Predestination of Human Will- Constraints:
I am able to move my arm, because God has given me the power to do so. However, I cannot control the muscles of my heart and stomach. One student may be very intelligent and able to grasp what he learns, just by reading his books through once – and then afterwards he may get pleasure from a hobby. Another student, however, may be a bit of a ‘plodder’, needing all day to understand and memorize his lessons. In the same way, one student may come from a family background where learning is encouraged and an appropriate environment is provided, whereas another student may not be given the same kind of support. His family may not be interested in intellectual pursuits-and the environment might be, noisy, making it hard for him to study. The choice of his circumstances is beyond him. As far as he knows, he has not been able to choose his parents, the ideal time for his lifespan or the ideal family background. All these matters are beyond our reach: We cannot make major changes in our structure for example alter our finger prints or change height in order to improve our appearance. All such aspects of our lives are predestined.
Free Will within Human Limitations:
Man, however, is free within his limitations. His ‘free will’ itself is not affected by the fact that certain aspects of his life have been pre-ordained. Human beings are rather like vehicles: the capacity of the engine determines the speed of the vehicle. A lorry cannot go as fast as a racing car. A saloon car is supposed to be used on smooth roads, and not to be driven up steps or through walls. A vehicle is not classified as something else just because something goes wrong with it. It can never, for example, be classified as a mass of rock. Similarly, man is not deprived of his free will, just because he faces certain difficulties which, within his limitations as a human being, are difficult to overcome. He still has choice, and can pursue his path as best he can. Man, unlike God, does not have the power to do as he wants, beyond a certain point.
Reward & Punishment-Corollary to Free Will:
Punishment is a result of the course of action we have chosen to follow using our own free will, which means that we are not punished for doing wrong if that choice was made under duress. We are only taken to task regarding what we have delightfully chosen to do. Whatever good a man has done will stand in his favour and whatever mistakes he has made will stand against him. God will not burden a human being with more than he is able to bear and He does not ignore even the tiniest good action. If ‘man-made’ courts of law with their relative sense of justice can assess and judge a man by taking his background and circumstances into consideration, how can the same factors be ignored in the Divine Court, a place of absolute justice? Will the same judgement be made in, say, a juvenile court, on a child who comes from a broken home and a poor background as a child from good parents, brought up in a secure home in ideal surroundings? Will both offenders be judged in the same way?
Parameters of Justice:
Applying the parameters of man-made justice to God is an error made by most theologians. I personally became aware of this after a certain incident. 1 think it has a moral behind it, even though it may seem out of context here. In 1931, I was working as a teacher at a primary school in Syria. At that time I was young and enthusiastic, but I was also very assertive, full of my own importance and I held dogmatic views. At that time I started to question the idea of fate and destiny, a matter which I discussed with various educated men, but could not get a satisfactory answer. My arrogance drove me into having violent arguments with them, which must have disturbed their peace of mind. I continued to hold these views, until one day I had to cane a student for bad conduct at school, (in those days caning of students was permitted). The student reacted rudely and insolently, shouting, “This is unjust! You are an oppressor!” When 1 heard his words, the cane fell from my hands. Momentarily I was mentally away from the school, and surrounded by complete darkness. And then it seemed as if a lamp had been lit for me. “That boy accused me of behaving unjustly because I caned him – whereas I consider it perfectly fair,” I thought to myself. “The action itself is same, though the points of view held about it are different. And if this student were to complain to his parents about what had happened, they might tell him that I had acted justly, and that the caning had been for his own good! So, if a student cannot apply his immature viewpoint to that of his teacher’s concept of justice, how on earth can I apply my man-made parameters of justice to those of Almighty God?”
Could it not be that an action which I consider unfair is in fact the very essence of justice? It would be like a sick boy complaining that it is rude of the doctor to give him an injection, whereas the boy’s father feels the doctor is performing a worthy act. The difference in viewpoint is that the boy is looking at it from the angle of his pain and suffering, while the father sees it as a way of restoring his son’s health. A judge cannot give a verdict regarding a case, unless he studies it from all aspects. We tend to judge matters from one particular viewpoint and often arrive at the wrong conclusions. Imagine that you and a friend go for a walk in the country and, as you lose your way, you accept a lift you are offered from someone driving a smart car. But when you’re in the car your friend takes out a knife, and starts to slash the car seat. How could he justify this? Isn’t this kind of behaviour rude and uncalled for? Of course it is! But if, later, someone tells you that a street gang have been stealing every smart car on the road and only sparing those with torn seats, then your friend’s behaviour would be justified. In fact the owner of the car might well have done the same thing in order to protect his vehicle! That is exactly what happens in a parable narrated in the Holy Qur’an, about Moses (peace be upon him) and a gentleman (Qur’an;18:60-82), when the gentleman (Khidar) deliberately made a hole in the boat in which they crossed from one side of river to the other. He also did many other strange things which puzzled Moses (peace be upon him) and consequently made him break his vow to Khidar not to ask questions. The moral of this story is that one should not judge matter without first looking at it from all angles.
Confirmation from The Qur’an & The Traditions:
Before going on to discuss the question of destiny and Divine will in the light of the Holy Qur’an and the Traditions, I would like to remind readers about the following basic principles:
1). The human mind can only function using these texts as a basis. It cannot grasp the reality of destiny in detail on its own, because, as stated earlier, the mind is unable to delve into metaphysical aspects. Therefore, any discussion that is not supported by the texts should be avoided.
2). We should always be aware that the Holy Qur’an is the basis, the terra firma-of all our beliefs. So, if there is any contradiction between a Qur’anic verse and a Tradition based on the authority of a single source and there is no way of reconciling the two in a satisfactory way, we should opt for the Qur’anic verse.
3). There can be no clear text, either in the Holy Qur’an or in the Traditions, which denies any physical reality because Our Lord Who revealed the Holy Qur’an is the Creator of every reality and Our Lord does not contradict his own creation.
4). The verses in the Holy Qur’an which carry the meaning of ‘Predestination’ and therefore denial of man’s free will are, in my opinion, verses which have a bearing on both the nobility and the corruptibility of man. Here are some verses we can consider, regarding that theme:
a) “He it is Who shapes you in the wombs as He pleases. There is no god but He the Exalted in Might the Wise”(Qur’an;3:6). For example, a newly born baby girl cannot be changed into baby boy, and we cannot change the colour of our skin.
b) “Thy Lord does create and choose as He pleases: no choice have they (in the matter): Glory to Allah! and far is He above the partners they ascribe (to Him)!”(Qur’an;28:68).
c) And there are verses which refer to global events beyond human control: “Have you seen that which you cultivate? Is it you who foster it, or are we the fosterer? If we willed, we verily could make it chaff, then wouldst you cease not exclaim. (Qur’an;56:63-65).
d) “If God touch thee with affliction, there is none that can relieve thee there from, save Him, and if He touch thee with good fortune (there is none that can impair it), for He is able to do all things” (Qur’an;6:17).
e) There are verses which refer to circumstances which are not of man’s making and which may lead to develop either noble or corruptible aspects of his character: “By the Soul and the proportion and order Given to it; And its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right; Truly he succeeds that purifies it And he fails that corrupts it!”Qur’an;91:7-10).
f) In the verses dealing with guidance, we find the word ‘guidance’ used to mean ‘direction of the Almighty’: “Did we not assign unto him two eyes and a tongue and lips, and guide him to the parting of mountain ways?”(Qur’an;90:8-0); “Lo! We have shown him the way whether he be grateful or disbelieving”(Qur’an;76:3).
We notice in the above verses that there are factors which are not created by man, but may have an influence in shaping him either into a noble or corrupt person. As stated earlier, God does not take his worshippers to task on such issues. It is impossible to plan something inevitable, and then blame the person who, as a consequence, behaves in a certain way. These texts have formed a battleground for various ‘breakaway’ sects, who misunderstood their meaning and therefore misapplied them. These groups should, on the contrary, have done as follows:
I). They should have made a distinction between the verses dealing with Divine Will, Divine Power and God’s disposal of the affairs of His kingdom, and the verses dealing with reward and punishment.
II). The texts should have been considered as a whole, and not broken down into parts. Anyone who studies the texts in their totality will realise that the Holy Qur’an grants man Freedom and free will which may result in either reward or punishment: “Allah disdains not to use the similitude of things lowest as well as highest. Those who believe know that it is truth from their Lord; but those who reject Faith say: “What means Allah by this similitude?” By it He causes many to stray and many He leads into the right path but He causes not to stray except those who forsake (the path)”(Qur’an;2:26).
A superficial look at these verses may well give the impression that, like everything else, guidance and misguidance are divinely ordained: some are destined to be misguided while others are to be blessed with guidance. But this impression will soon change after studying the following verses: “This is the Scripture whereof there is no doubt, a guidance unto those who ward off (evil)”(Qur’an;2:2). It is clear that God does not take it upon Himself to actually grant guidance or misguidance. This is a matter on which every individual takes his own decision. If a person lives in awe of God and in God consciousness, the Holy Qur’an will be his source of guidance. However, anyone who gets involved in matters which are harmful to him will not be guided. Anyone still having any lingering doubts, asking, “How do I know whether God has placed me among the guided or the misguided?” can find the answer in the following verses: “This is the Scripture whereof there is no doubt, a guidance unto those who ward off (evil), who believe in the unseen and establish worship, and spend of that we have bestowed upon them. And who believe in that which is revealed unto thee (Muhammad) and that which was revealed before thee, and are certain of the hereafter”(Qur’an;2:2-4); “those who break Allah’s Covenant after accepting it, and who cut aside what Allah has ordered to be united and cause mischief on earth. It is they who are the losers.”(Qur’an;2:27).
It is clear therefore that there is no predestination of man’s free will, and that free will is corrected with certain attributes and actions falling within the scope of human volition. For example, you may believe in a world beyond the reach of human perception, pray regularly and spend your time and money in the path of God; on the other hand, you may separate yourself from God, saw disruption and spread corruption on earth. Any of these actions are within your capacity. However, if you carry out the first three, you will be among those who are God-fearing and therefore you will be guided. But if you are guilty of the latter three, you will be considered as one who lost his way and whose lot is misguidance.
- Faith in Predestination
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